Mama Tears, Mama Fears: New School Year, New Chapter

It’s that time of year again. Teachers’ classrooms are freshly invigorated with unfamiliar students and crisp bulletinboard decor. Students sport squeaky new shoes and summer tans. Parents sigh a breath of relief, having survived the final days of summer and seek solace in the reprieve from child-wrangling or piecemeal childcare arrangements of summer. Except for me.

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From pool bag to school shoes

I’m the one feeling like the odd duck; the unicorn parent who is not excited for school to begin. At all. Instead of rejoicing my additional freedom and pumpkin spice everything, I’m mourning the end of my favorite season of long days spent outside in the sunshine, soaking in my kids, the sand, the sea, the memories. I know full well my children were equal parts adorable and asshole, but I don’t care. I’m self-loathing, wishing days of togetherness with my demanding darlings instead of hours of respite.

I’m lamenting the return to school year rush and the rigid routine I feel forced, not innately inclined, to institute. I shudder at the coming winter, as if a character from “Game of Thrones.” looking ahead towards an invasion of the zombie-like icy White Walkers: WINTER IS COMING! 

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School days are here

Mostly, though, I’m crying for a closing chapter I desperately wish to pry open. I shed tears recollecting where we used to be, who my children were (even just at summer’s beginning), how fast it all has progressed. I smile recalling memories of exhaustion and cuteness, milestones and regressions, overcome worries and hard-won lessons. I am warmed by gratitude for having been granted this life experience of motherhood, for being willing and able to accept the ass-kick of corporate lay-offs to shove me from cubicle to stay-at-home mom life. I feel a mixture of unsettling uncertainty and hopeful optimism knowing that we are all progressing — as individuals and as a family — towards our future selves.

I know we were where we needed to be, we are where we’re supposed to be, and we’re going where we’re intended. I’m still scared. Still sad. Still hopeful. Still reflective. Still uncertain.

Just as I am optimistic yet unclear as to who my children will be, what their futures will look like, I am similarly hopefully and anxiously unknowing of my own path ahead. Who will I be when I grow up?

Who do I WANT to be?

A mom. I want to be a mom. “You will always be a mom”, people say. But I fear the unknown. The unfamiliarity of mothering older children, teens, adults. I fear not being needed. Not being wanted. Those days will come, as they should (if I’ve done my job right), for raising independent, resilient children is my goal. But I hope they don’t come too soon.

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With my youngest entering preschool, this is my first time having all of my children in school. Grocery trips alone, a walk through Target or DSW or Homegoods unencumbered by tantrumers or snack requests? A quiet morning spent however I choose, whether on a walk, flowing through yoga, sipping coffee with friends, folding laundry, or sitting on my ass in a quiet house? What an unfamiliar circumstance!

I am in for a whole new chapter. More freedom. More time. More ability to uncover who I want to be as opposed to simply who they need me to be. Am I ready for the answer?

A World without Joy: Reflecting on Murder

11 years ago today my cousin, Joy, was murdered by her on-again-off-again fiancée (story detailed here.) Today, 11 years older and 1 husband and 3 kids richer, I am the same age she was when she was killed.

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Joy Buttrey, killed May 7, 2006

Fresh out of college, just beginning my career, not yet engaged to my now-husband, I was a very different person then. I was naive, shy, selfish, guarded, self-conscious, anxious, hopeful, lost. I looked at my three close-in-age older cousins as being notably more adult than I was. They were always bigger, more mature, more worldly than I. 34 seemed so far away.

Because of the decade+ age gap — and my own immaturity — between us, it was hard for me to comprehend just how much life my 34-year-old cousin had before her, just how much she would miss, just how young she really was. When I initially mourned her death, I felt the pain of her loss. I knew the act that took her was nonsensical, brutal, and callous. I knew she had been robbed from us — from the hoards of friends, colleagues, neighbors, acquaintances, and family who loved her — but my 23-year-old self didn’t yet compute all that had been robbed from her.

Joy Buttrey

At 34, I have three young children — aged 5, 4, and nearly 2 — who need me deeply every day. I have a loving husband and dear friends. I have close family and cherished dreams. I have hopes for the future decades ahead. I have much left to live.

Knowing how much my cousin loved life, treasured friends, adored family, and aspired to accomplish, I know that she had an array of hopes for her future. She had expended great effort and love to help her fiancée’s young daughter settle into a stable life with the possibility of a positive future. To see her flourish and rise was Joy’s ultimate goal; she wished great things for the young girl. She wished great things for herself, as well. Decades of dreams were shattered by a single bullet.

Today, I feel a coldness within me, the shadowy chill of overdue realization. I am able to empathize with my murdered cousin better than I ever could before. My eyes have finally opened to her loss, not my own.

If I were to have all of my future dashed today, all of my loved ones ripped from my grasp, all of my hopes obliterated, the personal loss would be tragic. I would miss so much!

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Today I mourn not my loss or the world’s, but Joy’s. I mourn her dreamed daughter, Maeve, who will never be. I mourn the experiences, the achievements, the trips, the love, the laughs, the tears, the sunny days and stormy nights, the future friends, and all that could’ve been but will never be.

The world is not the same without her. Her loss is still acutely felt 11 years later. The nature of her death haunts the recesses of my mind. But her laugh still rings true in my heart. Tales of her foibles still echo amidst guffaws at family gatherings, her name is spoken often with a broad smile and glittering eyes, her memory is still strong… alive. Her earthly presence may be 11 years gone but her spirit lives on, in this world without Joy.